CycleOnline.com.au tests the 2017 Honda CBR1000RR.
Words: Shannon Johnson
When you ask a racer what we had thought of Honda’s supersport bikes – the CBR1000RR and CBR600RR – over the years, we’d usually come up with a similar response, that they’re well-balanced, have a great chassis, good brakes, a ‘conservative’ engine and please HRC, give the superbike some electronics!
On the word conservative, I spoke to Honda Australia director Hamamatsu-san – who has had an involvement with the Fireblade project over its years in development – and he agreed with that description, while informing me the R&D team were torn between making a race bike or a user-friendly sportsbike. That’s why if your wallet lets you, the SP2 variant is ready and waiting.
But don’t be fooled, because the standard 2017 model Blade isn’t made up of 90 percent new parts for no reason. It’s a cleverly-disguised race bike, thanks to Honda’s ability to make a bike work for every skill level. So how have they bridged the numbers gap to the others? I say numbers gap because, after all, the previous model was still good enough to win both nationally-run Superbike championships in the past two years, if you’re as skilled as Troy Herfoss!
Firstly, the engine has been revised from the ground up with a saving of two kilograms. That doesn’t sound like much, but trust me, it was certainly noticed on the race track during last week’s Phillip Island press launch. Importantly, peak power has increased by 8kW at 13,000rpm, while peak torque is at 11,000rpm. We weren’t given the rpm limit numbers, but I certainly hit the rev limiter when I decided to test the electronics. More on that later.
The engine breathes through a smaller volume air-box and has two-millimetre larger throttle bodies, while the new fairing and air-intake creates a more efficient airflow, helping to increase power. Another major update on the engine is the clutch assembly, as a total revision has seen the slipper ramps changed and the basket itself is brand new. The clutch lever action now feels like a small capacity two-stroke and is very light. But all you really need to worry about is the horsepower, because let’s face it, we are speed junkies and this bike will give you your fix – it’s proper fast, which is the first time in a long time that I can truthfully say it is genuinely fast!
Total weight-saving on this bike is massive, because on top of the 2kg lighter engine, the rest of the rolling chassis has had 13kg trimmed off its waist. The new frame and swing-arm have not only received updates to increase rigidity with the extra power, but the pair play a 1.2kg part in the weight loss. Front brake callipers are 150g lighter, holding onto a more performance-driven set of pads that stop the new lighter wheels.
Two other major weight saving components are the ASIMO-inspired ABS IMU (Inertia Measurement Unit) that is the brains of the electronics package and the new system is 3kg lighter than the old ABS system. Finally, the exhaust is 2.8kg lighter. I’m not usually a fan of the EU emissions exhaust systems, but this one looks and sounds like a ‘real’ one. The 15kg lighter bike feels amazing on track, a sentiment echoed by Crankt Protein Honda Racing’s Bryan Staring after his first few runs – he’s raced a MotoGP bike, so that’s a good reference point.
Honda are the last to have their flagship sportsbike fitted with what’s expected on the latest generation superbikes, being MotoGP-derived electronics. My reference to ASIMO (Honda’s robot) is no joke, as the electronics system on this bike was developed with information gathered from the robot. Don’t worry, the human element of riding the bike is still very real, however it does give the rider confidence to push the limits that little more.
The IMU gyro is the intelligence collector and information provider that all the rider assists work off. Torque Control (otherwise known as traction control), ABS, Wheelie Control, Rear Lift Control, Power Delivery and Engine Brake Control all rely on the IMU signals to function. The connection of the right hand to the engine is no longer done via a cable either, because the 2017 CBR1000RR is Honda’s first inline four production bike to be fully ‘Throttle by Wire’ (TBW) driven. My first experiences with this type of system were one of detachment and not feeling like a real twist grip, but in this case, there has been some time invested into making it feel like a normal cable-operated system – keeping the human element alive and arm-pump real!
I must say, the missing link in the whole electronics package is the standard fitment of a quick-shifter. It’s not that they haven’t produced one, it’s just an upgrade accessory rather than being standard fitment. I was able to sample a bike with one fitted and, as you would expect, its exceptional. With a crisp, clean up-shift and clutch-less back-shifting with the auto-blip, it made me feel like I was on a current grant prix bike. Well actually, the whole electronics package is the same that comes fitted to the RC213V-S, so really, it is your very own MotoGP bike aside from the fact that you’ve not spent $200K-plus. If you do get yourself a new Fireblade, the first change you should make is to add the speed-shifter, as it makes the bike.
The rider assist package has extensive adjustment options. Modes 1, 2, and 3 are pre-set factory settings, while you can customise and store two additional modes – 4 and 5 – to suit your preference. You can change modes on the fly with a flick the finger on the left switch-block, however this must be done with a fully-closed throttle, otherwise it won’t change. The digital display is very easy to read, so you’ll have no problems seeing what mode you’re in.
Changing the modes will vary the Power Output, Torque Control and Engine Brake settings. It’s a pretty simple system to navigate and understand, as Mode 1 is least intervention and Mode 3 is most in the pre-set options. I started on Mode 3, which was a wise choice on a very cold, dirty Phillip Island circuit with fresh street tyres – things could have turned ugly quickly. It must also be noted, the ABS system cannot be turned off, however at no time did I feel it interfere with how I braked into a turn. I was still able to back it into turn four and, to be honest, it probably saved me once or twice as I was getting a bit excited before allowing the tyres to warm up as we didn’t have access to tyre warmers.
With all of the above information, I know you all just want to know how it feels on the race track, because well, let’s face it lap-times are a pretty important part of sportsbike bragging rights. Rolling out of the pit box, the first thing I noticed was how much smaller the bike feels compared to the older Fireblade. I’m not the biggest of riders (maybe a bit wider than my racing days) but the bike is physically small and narrow. The connection from the ‘TBW’ to the engine is consistent, no lag and it feels like a cable is still opening the butterflies.
Having set Mode 3 with the most amount of EB, most amount of TC and softest power setting, I was ginger to find out how well it works. That was the plan anyway. By the exit of Southern Loop I had already forgotten that and opened the throttle earlier than a non-scrubbed tyre would like, there was a small amount of movement sideways in the rear-end, before the TC caught it and pulled power out. I stood the bike up and thanked ASIMO…
Once the tyres generated a bit of heat I was able to understand and feel what the bike was like. My first impression is that it’s fast, proper fast, as I mentioned earlier. The handling of the bike was simply ‘Honda’, being very well balanced and easy to change direction, most notably through the high-speed Hayshed. As I raised the pace, so too did the old inner-racer and after one gear-shift in the wrong direction (I always rode race-shift of one up, five down), that was time to come in and change the shift-lever. A quick spin of the spanners by Honda racing boss Paul Free and off I set, this time with some warmth already in the tyres and not having to think about what way to shift the lever.
I also set it to Mode 2 and within a few turns I could feel the TC working alongside the Wheelie Control, which made it very easy exiting Southern and Siberia as the power cut was subtle, so I didn’t have to chop the throttle and have the bike pitch back and forth – just a smooth exit while the speed rapidly grew with the front wheel a few centimetres off the ground. By the end of this session I completely trusted the system and was becoming heavy with my right hand, so it was time for Mode 1 and that pesky racer wanted to know what the lap-times were. Old habits die hard, so I set the dash to display the lap-timer.
The third run was when I really appreciated the IMU-driven ABS and Rear Lift Control. Braking hard for turn four and MG, usually the front-end dives significantly and puts a lot of force on the rider’s upper-body, but the lift control cleverly adjust the brake bias to flatten the bike out, without making you run on or deep into the corner. It really is a fantastic and a great safety feature.
I was also now starting to test the TC on the slower turns. I had already becoming comfortable with the amount in which it allows the bike to step out and spin while still building speed and staying on line through the faster turns, so it was time to get greedy in second gear. I also must say at this stage, the tyres were a bit sick of me treating them poorly, so exiting turn four with my knee still on the ground I twisted to the stop… naturally, the rear shock was deep in the stroke and the TC was already being told by the rear tyre to let the front catch up.
A normal person might have stood the bike upright and let it do that, but I was here to test the bike, right? So I kept my hand south and maintained more lean angle, before finally the tyre stepped out. By this stage I couldn’t let the throttle off – it would have been big! – so I stood the bike up, the system caught back up and pulled a wheelie off towards Siberia. I was going to come in that lap, but hard to go around one more time to check the blackie. It was solid.
Quietly chuckling to myself, I shared that with Paul, along with the lap-times I was doing and it was suggested we make some adjustments to the Showa suspension. I’m sure he was thinking ‘oh great, I’m taking home a broken bike’, but in the fourth and final session after lunch I learnt how good standard suspension was with a few adjustments. Or maybe it was the knowledge from a 10-time championship-winning tech?
Either way, the lap-times dropped a fair bit, I was exploring the full capability of all the rider assist Honda had given their new Blade and it made me feel like a racer again, even if I’d be last on the grid… The control and connection to the bike while at speed is amazing, a race bike ‘conservatively’ built to be a road bike. Well done Honda, well done indeed.
Honda Australia’s latest CBR1000RR Fireblade is now in dealerships at a retail price of $22,499, available in Matte Ballistic Black Metallic and Victory Red. Further information can be sourced via the official website at www.fireblade.com.au or via our Bike feature previously posted on CycleOnline.com.au.
Engine type: Liquid-cooled, four-stroke, 16-valve, DOHC, inline four-cylinder
Bore/stroke: 76 x 55mm
Seat height: 832mm
Weight: 196kg (kerb)
Fuel capacity: 16L
Colours: Matte Ballistic Black Metallic and Victory Red
Price: $22,499 RRP
More details: www.fireblade.com.au